The first six weeks are crucial to long-term nursing. Here are the skills you'll need.
When I was pregnant, I heard many a story about problems other women had with breastfeeding: cracked and bleeding nipples, painful engorgement and inadequate milk supply, to name just a few. I knew I wanted to nurse my baby and felt confident that I could, but I wondered: Will these things happen to me, too?
Luckily, it didn't. Almost from birth, my son, Cobi, gulped hungrily at my breast and then rolled off, content. True, the early days were a blur, given my sleep deprivation and soreness from a long labor, but thanks to a little preparation and support, I was able to breastfeed successfully. You can do it, too, especially if you focus on the first six weeks; that's when you establish your milk supply and develop the skills that will help ensure success. Read on for tips to help you make it through those first weeks and on to the full year that pediatricians recommend.
1. be prepared Before you have your baby, take a breastfeeding class, buy a breastfeeding book or watch a breastfeeding video. Better yet, do all three. "It's a myth that women know instinctively how to breastfeed," says Katy Lebbing, I.B.C.L.C., a La Leche League International (LLLI) leader and manager of the LLLI Center for Breastfeeding Information in Schaumburg, Ill. "Breastfeeding is a learned art."
Give yourself time and space to master this art. Prepare your house ahead of time: Stock up on necessities such as diapers and clothing so you don't have to worry about them after the baby is born. Also create a nursing station complete with a comfortable chair, a nursing pillow and a side table for snacks, water, nursing pads and burp cloths. And keep a cordless telephone and a good book nearby so you're not left scrambling for them at the last minute.
Once you have the baby, put aside other obligations. Nichola Zaklan, 48, of Portland, Ore., cleared her calendar for the first month after her daughter, Militsa, now 6, was born. "Don't worry about anything else," Zaklan suggests. "Don't even write thank-you notes—you have the rest of your life for that."
2. find a mentor Breastfeeding might seem like a solitary activity, but it's best not to go it alone. Historically, women learned proper techniques from their mothers, grandmothers, sisters and neighbors, says Corky Harvey, M.S., R.N., a certified lactation consultant and co-founder of The Pump Station, a breastfeeding-support center in Santa Monica, Calif. Women teaching women is still a great way to go.
Before you give birth, call a relative or friend who has breastfed successfully and ask if she'll be available to help. Attend a La Leche League meeting before or after giving birth, and consider a session with a lactation consultant—even if you're not having problems, she can teach you the proper techniques. (Your hospital may have a consultant on staff; if so, arrange for a visit as soon as possible after delivery.)
3.eat and drink You'll need even more calories when breastfeeding than while pregnant—about 300 more per day than in the last trimester, even more if you're exercising. But don't go overboard; three well-balanced meals a day plus healthful snacks should cover it. Here are tips for making sure you're getting enough:
- Fill up your pantry before you have the baby. Also ask friends and family to stock your freezer with meals.
- At your baby shower, ask a friend or family member to organize a "food train," whereby people take turns bringing you home-cooked meals for the first few weeks. After the baby arrives, prepare plates of finger foods (sandwich bites, low-fat cheese, trail mix, vegetables and fruit) to nibble on while you nurse.
- Breast milk is 87 percent water, so drink up. Aim for 13 8-ounce glasses a day.
4.fear not Most women who stop breastfeeding do so because they think that they aren't producing enough milk—but inadequate production is rare, Harvey says. If your baby nurses eight to 12 times every 24 hours, has six or more wet diapers and three or more bowel movements daily by day six, he's getting plenty to eat. Nursing frequently (every one to three hours) should help you establish an ample milk supply. But if you're particularly concerned about your supply, ask a lactation consultant about trying herbal supplements such as Mothers Milk tea, fenugreek and fennel seed. The effectiveness of these remedies is anecdotal, but many mothers find them helpful.
5.get help "New mothers need to be mothered in order to mother their babies," Lebbing says. Accept help when it's offered: Let friends and family members do a load of laundry, clean your bathroom or look after the baby while you shower or take a quick walk. Ask a neighbor to watch an older child for a few hours. Also be sure to enlist your partner's assistance. He can do all of these tasks, for example, or simply help you by holding the baby while you get comfortable and settled to nurse.
6.latch him on The majority of breastfeeding problems can be prevented with a proper latch. This is how to do it:
- Position your baby on his side so he is directly facing you, with his belly touching yours. Next, prop up the baby with a pillow, if necessary, and hold him up to your breast; don't lean over toward him or stretch your breast out to him.
- Place your thumb and fingers around your areola (the dark area surrounding your nipple).
Tilt your baby's head back slightly and tickle his lips with your nipple until he opens his mouth wide.
- "Scoop" your breast into his mouth by placing his lower jaw on first, well behind the nipple.
- Tilt his head forward, placing his upper jaw deeply on the breast. Make sure he takes the entire nipple and at least 1 1/2 inches of the areola in his mouth.
7.nip 'em in the bud If you do have problems, it's important to correct them early on. Here are some of the most common challenges: Sore, cracked or bleeding nipples Mild tenderness is normal in the beginning, but severe pain or rawness usually indicates an improper latch. Review your book or video, contact your breastfeeding buddy or call a lactation consultant. In the meantime:
- Latch your baby on more deeply following the steps above.
- Nurse on your less-sore breast first.
- To remove your baby from your breast, break the suction before moving him: It's a simple matter of placing your finger in the corner of his mouth.
- Breast milk itself is soothing and moisturizing: Massage a small amount onto your nipples after each feeding and allow to air dry. Follow with pure lanolin or use hydrogel pads (Soothies) to promote healing. Don't wash your breasts with soap; water is sufficient.
Engorgement Swelling of the breasts between the third and fifth day postpartum is normal—it's a sign that your body is producing milk. As uncomfortable as it may be, any engorgement should subside in a day or two with frequent nursing. In the meantime:
- Apply a warm compress to the breast before nursing to stimulate milk flow.
- If the breast is extremely swollen, pump or hand-express your milk for a minute or two until the breast softens; otherwise, your baby may not be able to latch on.
- As you nurse, gently massage the breast toward the nipple.
- If pain or swelling is particularly bad, apply ice or cold packs (try a cloth-covered bag of frozen peas) after nursing. Some mothers also say that applying cold cabbage leaves to their breasts helps reduce swelling.
Leaking breasts This is a normal result of your body adapting to nursing. Your milk supply should stabilize between the second and fourth month postpartum; until then, use nursing pads. If you leak on one side while nursing on the other, use a clean towel to catch the flow.
Slow let-down It takes a few minutes for some women's milk to start flowing after the baby latches on. If this happens, apply a warm compress to your breast or take a warm shower before nursing. You also can massage your breast or hand-express to stimulate milk flow. Relax, listen to soothing music or light a candle while you nurse.
Fast let-down If forceful jets of milk overwhelm your baby, take him off your breast to let him catch his breath until the spraying subsides. Also try offering only one breast per feeding. "Your baby may fuss on the second breast if he wants to suck but can't deal with Niagara Falls," Harvey says.Your early investment in breastfeeding will pay off long term for you and your baby. At first, I holed up in my house, nursing only in the rocker with the pillow positioned just so, nursing pads and lanolin close at hand. Now all I need is Cobi, and all he needs is me.